Part 2: Employer Branding in a New World of Work — The COVID Effect and WFH

woman sitting at desk

Welcome to part two of Indeed’s employer brand series. In case you missed part one of the series last month, we sat down with employer branding expert Brie Mason to discuss exactly what employer brand is, who is responsible for it, and why it’s important for businesses to have strategies in place to manage it.

In this article Brie helps to unpack the implications of the COVID-19 crisis on employer branding, shares some best practices, and ponders where the future of employer brand is headed.

Do businesses need to rethink their employer brand post COVID-19?
It’s an interesting time in employer branding… While some organisations are cutting their employer branding (and recruitment) functions as a short-term cost-saving exercise, in other organisations the employer brand team is busier than ever, helping to manage brand reputation and candidate/employee experience during this crisis.

The world is watching how companies treat employees during the COVID-19 crisis, and there are even new websites popping up that rate how well employers are doing. People’s tensions and emotions are high. Business actions will be long remembered and disgruntled employees will be very vocal.

Vocal employees shape your employer brand perception, both in negative and positive ways, and send signals to potential candidates – undoing any great work you’ve done in building your employer brand.

Any tips on what they can do right now?
Companies shouldn’t stop all marketing efforts just because hiring volumes are low, or because they’re concerned about how it looks to employees who have been impacted by COVID-19 related business decisions. It’s an important time to focus on brand messaging and highlight the things you are doing for your people to support them. This is an opportunity to positively build your employer brand and steal share of mind, when other brands are potentially vulnerable.

Another consideration is that the COVID-19 outbreak may see a drastic change in the talent drivers for many industries, meaning companies need to revisit their employee value proposition (EVP).

People whose employment has been impacted will naturally prioritise job security and high salaries over other things—as they have been financially suffering throughout the pandemic. Those who have spent more time at home with their families could be looking for better balance and flexibility from their work life. Alternatively, people may be craving the chance to leave their home each day and be around others in a busy and fun work environment again!

In the near future, we may see a real divide in what people value most. Pinpointing the state of your industry and key talent segments could be what gives you the edge to develop a unique and differentiated EVP.

Brie Mason

Brie Mason, Founder, Employer Brand Mason

What’s your advice to large organisations whose workforces are predominantly working from home?
At this stage, I’d be advising companies to wait and watch when it comes to re-defining their employee offering and EVP. The world is in a state of flux—what people want in an employer is changing, and people are also unsure of what they want!

Companies who have built a competitive edge by having an amazing culture delivered through an in-house experience (filled with office perks, social gatherings, meals, etc,), are scrambling to assess whether to keep these offerings, and how to continue this culture when employees are working remotely.

People may choose to venture back into the office when they’re feeling more comfortable from a personal safety perspective, and when they miss that sense of belonging and camaraderie that work gave them. That said, moving forward I think we can be confident that people will have a strong preference for greater flexibility and want a mix of working from home and going into the office.

Companies need to consider how they can continue to offer this and make it a core part of their work experience, in order to avoid employee dissatisfaction and an increase in turnover once the job market picks back up.

What are some of the common employer branding mistakes you’ve seen over your career?

  1. Not getting leadership buy-in. While many companies pay lip-service to the idea that ‘people are their greatest asset’, employer branding is not always invested in, or treated with the level of importance it should.
  2. Not getting all departments in the organisation on board with building and managing employer brand reputation. Employer branding is a mixture of internal communications, marketing, experience design, policy, people management, HR and recruitment—so politics can be an issue. I have seen great employer brand strategies be rejected by marketing for political reasons, or become out-dated before the launch because new corporate brand guidelines were released that HR weren’t aware of.
  3. Not ensuring momentum in your employer branding program of work – from EVP articulation, through to taking it to market. There’s no point investing if you don’t communicate it to address your challenges. Often there’s no budget or drive for implementation—I have seen this happen several times, an extensive research program has resulted in a well-articulated brand position and a creative framework, but there has been no money left for implementation or marketing efforts.

Do you have any examples of companies who are doing employer branding well?
This is a very subjective one! My belief is that best practice employer branding is about companies:

  • Being clear on what their biggest attraction and retention challenges are
  • Gaining an intimate understanding their target audiences, and
  • Designing marketing solutions to address them

Whilst for one organisation – Walmart, being progressive and using channels like TikTok is a great example, I wouldn’t advocate it as a channel for all companies. For another company – Specsavers, it makes much more sense to focus their efforts on pipelining only critical talent for their business (optometrists). They have built an exclusive and thriving talent community which they’re able to tap into when recruiting.

There are so many great ideas and executions around the world, but they can only be judged on how well they’re delivering on real businesses challenges, otherwise they are just nice to do marketing exercises.

What’s the future of employer brand? 
The employer branding profession is still widely misunderstood, and business appreciation of the impact it can have is highly varied. I fear it’s an industry that may fall down if we don’t educate and upskill.

Companies need to progress their employer branding work from being short-term and tactical (recruitment marketing), to being long-term and strategic. It’s about connecting what you’re doing to your company goals to get buy-in from senior leadership. It’s about creating a holistic employer brand strategy that spans the entire employee lifecycle to help you attract and retain talent— not just a narrow focus on driving on job applications.

Brie Mason is an employer brand thought leader and pioneer in the Australian market, with over 15 years’ experience dedicated to building multi-award winning employer brands in the APAC region. She runs the employer brand consultancy, Employer Brand Mason, and aims to create greater awareness and understanding of the value employer branding brings, when there’s a holistic strategy that spans across the employee lifecycle.

The views and opinions expressed in this post are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Indeed.

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